Is California dreaming on mold?

Lack of scientific study may hinder enforcement of the state's new toxic mold law
August 11, 2010

When California Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 732 last October, it marked the nation's first major state-level effort to legislate against toxic mold. In effect since January, the law aims to reduce health risk from mold by establishing permissible exposure limits and standards for identifying and remediating it.

"California is setting an example for others to follow," Gov. Davis said in a statement. "This bill represents some of the toughest environmental health laws in America."

While the statute is seen as a step in the right direction, some mold experts feel that creating regulations now may be a difficult task.

"The science on human effects from mold is incomplete; there's very little actual data," concedes Richard Carlson, president of Carlson Environmental Inc., Chicago, and former director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "If the regulations are based on good science, then they will establish an accurate framework. But it's going to be a stretch for California to come up with accurate standards."

George Benda, CEO of Chicago-based indoor air quality consultant Chelsea Group, concurs, emphasizing the challenge of regulating mold by relating to the well-established standards in the industrial chemical industry.

"If you have a gallon of chemicals in a room, you can predict the concentration by looking at evaporation and ventilation rates," he says. "Mold cannot be measured like that."

Toxic Mold Protection Act

SB 732, known as the Toxic Mold Protect-ion Act, requires the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to convene a task force to advise the DHS on the development of permissible mold exposure limits. DHS must report on its findings by July 1, 2003.

The statute also requires DHS to:

  • develop standards for the assessment of molds in indoor environments, including "special" standards for health-care facilities;

  • develop standards for the identification and remediation of mold;

  • review and update the exposure limits at least once every five years;

  • develop public education materials and resources to inform the public about mold.

When mold exposure levels are eventually set, the law will also require that the owners of residential, commercial or industrial property provide a written disclosure of the mold conditions to buyers or tenants, if it is known that mold exceeds the permissible exposure limit.

Will other states follow?

While California is clearly the frontrunner in mold legislation, other states have joined the fight against toxic mold. Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Texas all have some sort of edict in the works.

Some bills, such as New York's SB 5799, are similar to California's regulations, with the goal of creating mold exposure limits. Others are more basic in nature, simply setting the groundwork for government-funded studies on the effects of mold in indoor environments.

For instance, Maryland's SB 283, which came online last July, established a task force to study the health risks as a result of mold located in HVAC systems. Results of the study must be presented to state officials by July.